Low-power versions of Intel’s latest and greatest “Sandy Bridge” processors are populating the chipmaker’s database, giving a pretty clear view of the chips small MacBooks will use in the future.
Small, in this case, could be anything from a future 13-inch MacBook Pro (currently 0.95 inches thick) to an updated MacBook Air (currently 0.11 to 0.68-inches)–the latter expected in the summer timeframe.
The “launch date” for the low-power chips highlighted in the graphic below is listed in Intel’s database as “02/20/2011.”
It’s important to remember that with the 32-nanometer Sandy Bridge generation, Intel combines the graphics function (previously a separate slice of silicon) with the main processor–a first for Intel in its Core series of products.
So, a power-efficient Sandy Bridge processor rated at 17 watts is comparable to older, less-integrated Core 2 Duo 10-watt chips. Note that in Intel nomenclature, the wattage rating is called TDP, or thermal design power (see graphic). It’s also worth pointing out that the most power-efficient Intel mobile processors have historically been called ULV, or ultra-low voltage.
Which leads to a sore point for some prospective 2010 MacBook Air buyers (or current users). The 11.6-inch Airs use the old 10-watt ULV Core 2 Duo combined with Nvidia’s GeForce 320M graphics-based chipset, as I’ve pointed out before. (Nvidia, by the way, does not disclose TDPs for its graphics chips and chipsets–I’ve asked them more than a few times to no avail.)
The use of older Core 2 Duo chips is probably not an issue for the vast majority of people that buy the new Airs but for some (like me) it is a bit vexing that Apple essentially uses the same Intel processor technology as the original MacBook Air introduced three years ago.